Summary: So what’s the difference between the church and the world? And what’s the source of that difference. Would it surprise those of us in the church to realize that we’re the reason things are so different?
What’s the difference? By itself the question doesn’t make sense. What’s the difference between what? Some differences are pretty easy to see, night and day; automobiles and elephants. But others are a bit subtler such as between democracy and a representative republic. Still others are live changingly important. And these are what concern us.
Kenton is taking some pretty radical steps to reach out to our community. You’ve seen the billboard and this next week we’re sending out thousands of postcards to the neighborhood around us. In fact, many of you will be getting them yourselves. To get us ready for the potential of new visitors let me ask “What’s the difference between the world and Christ-followers who are part of the Body of Christ?”
You can probably come up with quite a list of things I know I did. But I would like for us to understand that the root for this difference is in our past. What we see in the world around us is the direct result of the difference between congregational life today and that of the 1950’s and 60’s.
There aren’t many here who remember the glory days of Kenton Church. (STATISTICS). But suffice it to say we weren’t alone. Peace Lutheran moved because of the need for more space. Other congregations built on and others like Rivergate Community was planted in the certainty that the blooming church attendance would continue. Life as part of the institutional church was acceptable, fashionable, expected and part of the great “American way of life”.
Think about this. If you were an adult back then and had you children attending Kenton or another church each week are they active in a congregation today? Why or why not? If you were one of those brought to church by your well meaning parents what kept you in or caused you to return to church? And what happened to your peers, your friends in Sunday School and youth club?
As I prayed about this I came to the realization that a major shift in the way we view our world has happened over the past decades. We moved from seeing our world in terms of an “organization” to that of an “organism”. Instead of looking at politics, education, church, medicine and everything else as mechanized, do-A-then-B-happens, static systems we started to experience our lives in terms of dynamic, fluid, ever-changing, and growing systems. This is why we talk about healing in terms of physical, social and mental not just one or the other. It’s why we insist that the public be brought into so many discussions that were the private affair of politicians 40 years ago.
The downside of this was that the institutional church ran into a wall with this change. They faced questions of “relevancy” and “integrity”. Ask those who “dropped out” of the institutional church and you may hear things like, “I out grew it”, “it didn’t seem to matter after a while”, or “I don’t need it now.” The organization called church didn’t make any practical, everyday difference in the life of people and many, especially younger people, saw it clearly.
Comments like, “church is full of hypocrites”, go the heart of the issue of integrity. It became harder and harder to accept an organization that said, “God so loved the world…” while the bylaws of the congregation wouldn’t let African American’s join the congregation. The gamesmanship played by denominations seemed to mirror those played by the military, government and unions and companies and many just didn’t want to have to play one more hand of the same old game. So they left.
I propose that for any group of Christ-followers to reach into this changing world they have to learn how to be relevant and how to live out their faith. When I say “relevant” I’m not suggesting everyone get a tattoo or that we join into the latest “fads”. Romans 12 says that we aren’t suppose to let the world press us into its mold. But, Paul also told us that he tried to be all things to all people so that he might win some. Relevancy has to do with speaking the truth of God’s word in a way that is understood.
You may not believe it but when Wycliffe Bible Translators go among a new group of people they do not teach the people the English language and hand out King James Versions of the Bible. They don’t even teach them Greek and Hebrews so that they can read the original languages in which scripture was written. Why is that? Because people have to hear, see, and understand God’s love and Christ’s death in their own language.
In the 1960’s and later the organizational church believed that the “the faith given once for all times” was equal to the organization. That faith (and I use a small ‘f’ for it) had more to do with the décor of the church, the style of dress among the people, the way worship was always done. And this faith was so strong that when fads like “rock and roll” which qualifies for AARP now came along the church ignored it. As marchers headed off to Selma and George Wallace blocked the entrance of schools to African Americans most congregations remained happily disconnected and lost in their own worlds.